Science Says Sex and Food — and Even Jolly Ranchers — Can Be ‘Beautiful’

A new study shows that people find sex and even candy to be “beautiful.” (Photo: Getty Images)

Beauty is in the brain, mouth, and hands of the beholder, apparently — it’s not just something you see. According to a May 11 study published in Current Biology, the experience of beauty is processed in the brain and can be more than a perception of something as being physically pretty.

Researchers from New York University wanted to look into philosopher Immanuel Kant’s claim that experiencing beauty requires thought but that sensuous pleasure can be enjoyed without thought and cannot be beautiful.

For the study, researchers recruited 62 participants and asked them to provide six images that were “movingly beautiful” to them. Next, the participants were provided with images in combinations of varying levels of beauty and arousal, including pictures of Ikea furniture (some people would consider it beautiful, but that probably depends on what state of construction it’s in). Then they let the participants taste different Jolly Ranchers candies and touch a “very soft” teddy bear. The participants were asked to rate their levels of pleasure and whether they experienced beauty from each object.

Researchers also provided distractions during the trials when participants were rating beauty to see how they affected what the participants felt. The distractions greatly reduced the “beauty and pleasure experienced from stimuli that otherwise produce strong pleasure.”

Their findings proved that thought is needed to process beauty. It isn’t just something you see.

The study also showed that “strong pleasure is always beautiful, whether produced reliably by beautiful stimuli or just occasionally by sensuous stimuli.” Meaning, sucking on a really good Jolly Rancher can be beautiful, since beauty isn’t just about appearance.

Surprised that sucking candy could be deemed “beautiful,” the researchers asked some participants who had responded “definitely yes” regarding beauty on the candy trials about this. “Most of them remarked that sucking candy had personal meaning for them, like a fond childhood memory,” the study authors wrote.

According to the study authors, one participant replied, “Of course, anything can be beautiful.” We couldn’t agree more.

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